It is likely that you will find a mismatch between the development needs of staff regarding CPD for SEN and the resources available to you

January 2007 was a particularly extraordinary month in education. We should be used to controversies kicked off by ministers and MPs, as they try to apply the standards they set for the rest of us to their own lives, but frequently fail. So why was it still in some way shocking to hear that former Education Secretary Ruth Kelly is educating one of her children in the independent sector, as his needs cannot be met by the maintained sector?

On one level, Ms Kelly is a parent and entitled to do the best for her son, as far as her resources allow her. But there is no doubt that her action has placed her in the compromised position of admitting that the policies of her government regarding special educational needs have not served her, or us, well. Her error therefore, is not what she has done; rather it is that she has not openly acknowledged this fact about failed policies with integrity, and a commitment to ensuring that no other parent has to do what she has done.

So where does this leave us? As a CPD coordinator you almost certainly have skills audits and needs identification exercises built in to the cycle of your year. Undoubtedly this will be linked both to the needs of teachers themselves and those presented by the school and its pupils. It may be useful, though, to gather information on what teachers and their TAs consider to be their main challenges in supporting children with special educational needs. The following ideas may help.

  • Has there been a shift in staff perception of how well they are able to support the special needs of their pupils? Do they feel better able to or not?
  • Do staff feel they have sufficient knowledge of the specific special educational needs in their classrooms?
  • Where is greatest support required? In training on specific conditions, or in resourcing so that children can be effectively supported?
  • In your opinion, is it possible for the teachers in your school to effectively support the children with special needs without expert input from skilled professionals in the community?
  • Does your school have access to external support, perhaps through Sure Start or the extended schools initiative? If not, where does necessary training come from?
  • How are new pupils with special educational needs supported on arrival at your school? Are the development needs of teachers working with the child considered alongside his/her needs?
  • Are there ways in which teachers at your school can specialise their professional development so that you can nurture experts within your staff team?

Budget juggling aside, raising these concerns with your local authority will help to ensure that the true needs of schools regarding SEN are known.

As for Ruth Kelly, if the independent Bruern Abbey school is so much better equipped than the school and teachers who have been teaching her son to date, maybe it is time for a serious look at inclusion and the state of special needs funding as delivered by her government? That way she could turn a no-win situation into concrete improvements for all in the maintained sector.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2007

About the author: Elizabeth Holmes is the author of CPD Week